Virginia is taking full advantage of being retired, with no job to get up for in the morning. She's curled up in bed under a crazy quilt, burning a lantern with profligate disregard for economy, as she devours the latest offering of her favorite novelist.
Virginia is finding the story ~~ gripping ~~ in its portrayal of Evil Incarnate haunting an isolated farming community. She finds the idea of an Evil Incarnate that can be fended off by Good relaxing: in real life, the problems are much less clear-cut, and the solutions messier, as well.
Rona walks the deserted streets of Hannard's Ford, hoping she'll be able to recognize the nurse's house in the dark.
Rona is a twelve year old girl, bundled up in a good quality new coat but shivering with fear and desperation. She looks like she's been crying, but has cried herself out.
Rona finds Virginia's house, and knocks quietly at the door. She doesn't want to wake the whole neighborhood. They might....
Virginia hears a tap, and thinks for a moment that it's a tree branch on the roof, but it's not quite coming from the right direction.
Rona wonders if she's doing the right thing, but can't think of any alternative that doesn't mean... death.
Virginia blinks, momentarily distracted from the antics of the Ghost of Fibber Hollow, then realizes what it must be.
Virginia: Who would be knocking, this time of night?
Rona wonders if she should just run away somewhere. But anyone who finds her will want to murder her. Unless she's just sick. She's been trying to convince herself that it was the sandwich she had for lunch that's made her sick to her stomach.
Virginia gets up, puts on a robe and slippers, and carries the lamp downstairs. She hopes that it's not a messenger from her neighbor, Dr. Tavis, asking her to help with some medical emergency his regular nurse can't handle.
Rona's grandfather, Dr. Tavis, told her what nausea can mean, now that she's twelve, and promised her that if it's that he'll give her a Black Pill, so she won't have to suffer.
Virginia opens the door, and manages not to groan as she recognizes the Tavis grandchild.
Rona's throat tightens up when she tries to speak.
Virginia: What is it, dear? Does your grandfather need help with a patient?
Rona shakes her head and clutches her arms to her chest.
Virginia is starting to have a bad feeling about this.
Rona wonders whether Miz Virginia will help her, or just tell her grandfather to give her the Black Pill.
Rona: Uh, I was hoping... uh...
Rona looks down and shivers. Her teeth start to chatter.
Rona: My mom and grampa...
Rona and her mother have been living in Hannard's Ford for a few months now. They moved to her grampa's home after her father was killed by a Demon Sime late last summer, and her mother had a nervous breakdown.
Rona: My mom gets upset so easily now... so I didn't want to worry her...
Virginia adds two and two, and it comes out "major hassle".
Virginia: You're feeling poorly?
Rona: I think I ate something that disagreed with me.
Rona has been properly brought up to use polite euphemisms.
Virginia sighs, and opens the door a little wider.
Virginia: You might as well come in, honey. It's too cold out to be talking through the door.
Rona: Thank you, Miz Virginia.
Rona comes in and stands in the entry hall, indecisively.
Rona: I didn't want to wake my grampa up. He needs his sleep... So I thought... since you're a nurse....
Rona realizes she's making a botch of this, but doesn't know what else to say.
Virginia leads the way to her living room, and sits down in her comfortable chair. She bids a mental farewell to her quiet evening.
Virginia: What exactly are your symptoms, Rona?
Rona: Uh... I've been sick to my stomach... I mean, the meat in the sandwich I had for lunch did smell a little funny, but I was hungry...
Virginia: For how long?
Rona: Uh. Since evening, I guess.
Virginia: Anything else?
Rona: Uh, not really.
Virginia: Not really? What else is not-quite-real, then?
Rona tries to believe that she's shivering because it was cold out. And her arms are sore because she was helping the cook knead all that bread dough for the church bake sale.
Rona: I just don't feel so good. Maybe I'm coming down with something. I feel cold.
Virginia: Cold, not feverish?
Virginia reaches out to test Rona's forehead.
Rona grits her teeth and doesn't step back.
Virginia: You could be a little warm. How do your arms feel? Any tenderness?
Virginia continues down the standard list of questions.
Rona: Cook was teaching me how to make bread today. We were making a lot for the bake sale? So they're a little sore from that. From kneading bread. It's hard work.
Virginia: Why did you come to me, instead of your grandfather? He's the doctor.
Rona: I didn't want to wake him up. He's so old... he needs his sleep.
Rona was afraid he'd make her take the Black Pill, just in case.
Virginia nods, accepting the fiction.
Rona: So I thought maybe you could give me some stomach tea or something like that.
Rona's expression is ~~ pleading ~~.
Virginia tries to figure out how to handle this.
Rona really wants to be told that she has food poisoning or stomach flu, and that everything will be all right. But she doesn't really believe that those are the only things it can be.
Virginia: Rona, it could be something that stomach tea will fix. On the other hand, it might not be.
Rona knows that, and is ~~ terrified ~~.
Rona: I... I don't want to die.
Virginia: If it just started this evening, it's too early for us to tell which it is.
Rona nods, ~~ relieved ~~.
Virginia: But that's not a bad thing, necessarily. It gives us time to deal with the situation.
Rona: My grampa... my grampa says there's just one cure for it... like rabies.
Virginia would have said the same thing, not long ago.
Rona's face crumples, but she holds back her tears.
Virginia: Well, if that's what it is, it's true that there's no cure. On the other hand, the disease doesn't have to be fatal, either.
Rona: But demons have to kill. So somebody dies. Even... if it's not me. Or not me, right away. Like the demon that killed my dad, they shot him. But he was dead anyway.
Rona begins to shiver again, even though she still has her warm coat on.
Virginia: Hannard's Ford has a Sime Center. If you are turning Sime, and you went there, you wouldn't kill. You'd still be a Sime, though, and you'd have to rely on people giving enough selyn to sustain you.
Rona: But I'd be a demon. If I went there, they'd make me a demon, wouldn't they?
Virginia shakes her head.
Rona: I mean, maybe it was just the sandwich.
Rona is twelve years old, she's had a rough time lately, and she's grasping at straws.
Virginia: Either you are, or you aren't. They can't change that, any more than your grandfather can.
Rona: Why would God curse me? I mean, he already let a demon kill my dad.
Virginia: We don't know that he has. You could just have an upset stomach. It happens.
Rona: Could I have some stomach tea? Maybe it will work.
Rona is starting to feel like she'd rather be out in the dark than here in Virginia's house. Somewhere quiet and dark and safe.
Virginia doesn't necessarily want to have a possible changeover victim in her house, for any length of time.
Rona: I could just have some tea, and then go home. I'd probably be okay by morning.
Virginia gives Rona a Look.
Rona is starting to think coming here wasn't such a good idea.
Virginia: Young lady, ignoring the situation will only give you less of a chance of dealing with it appropriately. If it really is what you're hoping it's not, waiting until morning will only make a disaster more likely.
Rona: It's probably just my stomach. I'll be okay. I'm sorry I bothered you, Miz Virginia.
Virginia is, too, but she does have a responsibility to her community not to let a possible changeover go off and hide.
Rona starts edging towards the door.
Virginia: Rona, do you really want to go back and spend all night wondering if it is, or it isn't?
Rona: If I don't feel better in a little while, I'll wake up my grampa. I promise.
Rona is lying. She's not sure where she's going to go, but it won't be her grampa's house.
Rona: I mean, I don't really feel like throwing up any more.
Virginia: I've got another idea, that won't disturb your grandfather.
Rona no longer trusts Virginia to help her. She eyes the door and wonders whether she can get out before Virginia can catch her. Virginia certainly isn't dressed to chase her through the cold streets.
Virginia: Don't run, Rona. That would leave me only one choice, and the night patrol wouldn't care whether you really were turning Sime.
Rona wonders what her chances are of getting somewhere the night patrol won't be able to find her. She doesn't know the town very well.
Virginia: That's the real issue here. It might not be necessary for you to worry, at all.
Rona: I thought you could tell. That's really why I came here.
Virginia: I can't. But I know someone who can. And who won't go running to your grandfather, if it turns out to be a false alarm.
Rona: And... if it's not...
Virginia: We'll find you a cup of stomach tea, and you can go home to bed.
Rona: But if it is...
Virginia: If it is, then you've got some hard choices to make.
Rona looks down. She doesn't want to make any hard choices. She just wants to find a safe, quiet, dark place to... wait.
Virginia: But let's not borrow trouble. The first thing is to find out for sure if you have to make a choice at all.
Rona didn't think there was another doctor in town.
Virginia: I have a friend who works at the Sime Center. His name is Cristal, and he knows quite a bit about Simes. Certainly enough to tell whether you're becoming one.
Rona: He's not a demon... uh, a Sime?
Virginia: He was raised among Simes, but he's as Gen as I am.
Rona: So he can come out... he doesn't have to stay in the Sime Center like the Sime does.
Rona has heard stories about the Sime Center and the demon who lurks inside from her schoolmates.
Virginia: He comes out for exercise, and to run errands, but he lives at the Sime Center.
Rona: Could he come out to see me, then?
Rona is terrified of meeting an actual demon Sime, like the one who killed her father.
Virginia: Rona, I'm not going to leave you alone. We can go to the Sime Center together, and then ask if Cristal can come out to take a look at you.
Rona: It's probably just that sandwich. I'll be careful not to eat things that smell funny from now on.
Virginia: That's a sensible plan. And if that's what it is, you'll know very soon.
Rona nods again. She can probably get away from Virginia in the dark, if she can only think of a good place to hide, where the patrol won't find her.
Virginia: Now, I'm going to have to put some clothes on. You come upstairs with me while I get dressed -- the bedroom's warmer.
Rona figures that arguing is futile, so concedes.
Virginia leads the way up the stairs.
Rona follows, still trying to believe it was just the sandwich.
Virginia is hoping, too, although she suspects that her hopes may be in vain.